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In this series, we’re getting to know the authors of The Sustainable Ecommerce Handbook, our ebook on building green and lean online stores, available to download for free directly from The Ecomm Manager. 

This time, we’re chatting with Ada Hyldahl Fogh, Head of Tech at Organic Basics. This sustainable apparel company made waves beyond the fashion industry when they launched a low-impact version of their website, which reduces carbon emissions by up to 70% compared to the regular site.

Ada shares what inspired his team to build the low-impact site, tell us about the ripple effect it had on other businesses, suggests ways ecommerce managers can help build more sustainable sites, and looks ahead to Organic Basics’ next steps in sustainability.

Can you share some facts about the internet’s environmental impact that might surprise people? And where do most of the emissions from Organic Basics’ main site come from?

There’s plenty of crazy numbers flying around. Some say two percent of the world’s carbon emissions come from the internet. Others say it’s four percent. It might be lower, or it might be higher, but what matters right now is that it’s definitely there. It’s been an invisible part of the climate crisis discourse for too long, so the first step would be to start the conversation.

As for Organic Basics’ main site, the challenge is that images and videos are the heaviest hitters in terms of carbon emissions. Unfortunately, these tend to be a key part of any ecommerce manager’s tool belt, and so it becomes quite tricky to reduce carbon emissions while maintaining a fully functioning ecommerce site. But nobody said fighting the climate crisis was gonna be easy.

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How did you come up with the idea for the low-impact site?

We had been seeing more and more websites popping up that put an emphasis on being low-impact. Low-tech Magazine’s Solar website was the most prominent one. At this point, we hadn’t really considered whether we should make one ourselves until a customer reached out to us with a link to the Website Carbon Calculator. When we saw our own site’s footprint, we realized we had to start learning about what effect websites can have on the climate crisis.

What’s your chapter in The Sustainable Ecommerce Handbook about? What’s the Low Impact Manifesto?

With the Low Impact Manifesto, we tried to write down 10 rules to follow when building all kinds of low-impact websites. In my chapter, I go through these guidelines in detail and explain why they matter and how you can abide by them. In general, the rules are written loosely to not impose limits on certain technologies, but this article is a more in-depth run-through of the rules than I’ve written elsewhere, and as such it contains specific suggestions for different technologies to look into.

How can ecommerce managers get started and help build online stores that are more sustainable?

As with many other sustainability initiatives, the journey starts with measuring. The end goal is to reduce the negative impact your ecommerce business has on the world, and you can’t do that efficiently if you don’t measure it.

Once you have your measurements, you can start to prioritize which initiatives to get started with first. It might be digitally generated emissions, but it might also be transportation or packaging. You need to find out what has the biggest impact on your business.

How has the low-impact version of Organic Basic’s site gone down since it launched? 

We’ve had a tremendous amount of interest from various sources. Primarily, it’s within the realms of the tech industry. Our presence on GitHub is generally quite minimal, but we have seen a handful of people “starring” our open-source project for the site. We also contributed an article to the digital sustainability-focused online magazine Branch’s first issue. Even within the wider sphere of fashion, Vogue wrote an article about the project.

The feedback we’ve received from customers has similarly shown us that there’s an interest in this topic once it becomes clear that it actually is a topic. Most people still don’t consider the internet or digital products to have a carbon footprint, but that is definitely changing. 

What’s the next step in sustainable design and development for Organic Basics? 

Our next focus areas in digital sustainability are two-fold: 

  1. Trying to figure out how to integrate the low-impact website into our core customer experience. 
  2. Optimizing our measurement capabilities, so we can continuously keep track of how our website's carbon emissions change. Carbon emissions should be as important a metric as page speed and conversion rate. 

On a larger organizational basis, we are taking steps to focus our efforts where they can have the biggest impact. It makes no sense for the web team to focus on reducing digital emissions by two percent if we can help reduce transportation emissions by 10 percent. 

Are there any sustainability resources that you'd like to recommend?

First, I encourage everyone to listen to, support, and amplify the voices of BIPOC women and children, particularly in the climate discourse. Those voices are too often ignored and will most likely be impacted much harder by the climate crisis than any others. A good place to start could be finding those voices on the Twitter hashtag #FridaysForFuture or keeping an eye out on Greta Thunberg’s profile on Fridays for retweets. 

After you’ve done that, you should check out Branch magazine. They just released their second issue and recently won a well-deserved Ars Electronica Award for Digital Humanity.

Low-tech Magazine is another fascinating resource for learning about sustainability from. Their solar website was an important inspiration for our site, but they also write articles that truly open one’s perspective on sustainability.

I’d also suggest signing up for Wholegrain Digital’s newsletter to make sure you receive your monthly dose of fresh sustainability news.

Learn more about all our authors and download The Sustainable Ecommerce Handbook for free!

For even more on everything sustainable: The Low Impact Manifesto: Organic Basics’ 10 Guidelines For Building Greener Websites

Oliver Lindberg
By Oliver Lindberg

An award–winning editor, content consultant, and founder of Pixel Pioneers, based in Bath, England. Formerly the editor of Net Magazine, he has been involved with the web design and development industry for more than a decade and helps businesses across the world create content that connects with their customers. He’s passionate about content, user experience, accessibility, and designing for social good.